Friday, January 29, 2010

There's No Place Like Home--and if there was I probably wouldn't go there.

When I first saw the tulip fields in the Skagit valley I felt like I had walked into the poppy fields in the Wizard of OZ. So much solid color for as far as the eye could see. It was glorious and unbelievable. I was like a little kid giddy with excitement. Of course I just had to have my very own fields of tulips. Unfortunately I did not have the room for it. Not unless I planted every square inch of the front yard and then moved on into the neighbors yards as well. Not that I think they would have minded but they may have questioned my on my color choices and I simply wasn’t willing to go there. There was also that small but important fact that made my dream even less likely to come true. I didn’t garden! A small set back to my Dorothy schemes.

I reluctantly came to terms with my territorial limitations and non gardening ways and consoled myself with yearly visits to the fields and ogling the tulips of the neighbors who actually did garden.
When we moved to our current home a few years ago those dreams long denied and dormant resurfaced with a vengeance. As soon as we had beds with dirt I wanted to fill them with bulbs. Tons of bulbs, swaths of vibrant mind blowing color as far as the eye can see. I got the catalogues from our local growers and began filling up my order, eager for those big beautiful fields of color to be mine, all mine. And it took about five whole minutes before I found out just how flipping expensive that was going to be! The Wicked Witch of Want and her evil Monkeys of Denial had thwarted my Dorothy plans once again.

But no! The Scarecrow of Autumn arrived with a wonderful gift—the 50% off sale. I was saved, my dreams of creating “No Place Like Home” were back on track. I grabbed a cart and began scaring the daylights out of the Saint. I snagged bags of 75 this, 100 that and 50 something else. In went big bags of red plastic mesh filled with red yellow mix tulips 100 count, giant King Alfred daffodils 100 count, then pink ones, and yellow ones then hyacinth, crocus, iris …it was a mad flurry of bulbs and corms. They were 50% off for heavens sake--I had to!

This is my third year buying copious amounts of bulbs at deep discount ten minutes before the weather turns to rain, snow and ice. It’s a challenge and a lot of work but so far I have managed to get all those bulbs into the ground before the weather runs into the house to suck up to the fireplace for the next several months. This year I waited for the sales as I have done before, they seemed though I can verify it, to go on sale later. I made my final bulb purchase during a sleet and hail storm. They were going to sit in the garage for a bit.

Then the holidays hit, a main waterline broke leaving us no water over said holidays, then the flu, the Titanic event, the flu again, oh, and now the heater is leaking again. Nope, not kidding, the new water heater is leaking from ever single hose connection the guy made just a couple of days ago. Sigh. No water again lest we drown in our sleep.

At least the weather isn’t what it was last year around this time when it was um, cold. We had a wee bit of snow then. This photo was taken just after Christmas last year, when we got three feet of the white stuff over night. The year before on this date, we also had snow. This year however it looks like we are going to have roses blooming with the tulips. It has been very mild after a long hot summer and the garden has had about 6 minutes of sleep, which sadly, is about 4 more minutes than I have had lately.

I have been out there in the garden with my trusty spoon for days now trying to get 700 discount bulbs into the ground before the daisies and roses show up. I’m almost there but if I have to go through one more life altering event I might just choke a Munchkin and call it a day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Titanic- The Home Version

You may recall that I started the New Year with a nasty flu bug and that it was really wiping me out. I have certainly had worse bugs but this one was at the very least a tenacious little punk. Mostly it just pulled up comfy spot on the sofa, with a bowl full of chips, the greasy kind, turned on the Discovery Channel and made himself at home. I couldn’t get this slacker to leave, even when the chips were gone he just moved onto a box of saltines and a brewsky. You wouldn’t believe the mess he made. Crumbs and empty glasses everywhere, pizza boxes littering the floor, the house was a wreck! I couldn’t even get all the delayed holiday gear put away. “Oh no, don’t do that. Let’s just lie here and take a nap” he said. “Look hyenas and giant ants are on next, you don’t want to miss that!” I was weak, I couldn’t resist and the hyenas weren’t so bad but those ants, they kind of stick with you. They’re like the largest colony on earth or something. Forget Al-Quaeda, bomb those freaking ants!

After convalescing for what I am pretty sure was a good six months I had begun to have fever free days. This coordinated beautifully with the first actual sunny day we’d had in those six months. Anxious to get as far as possible from those fever induced ant images, I grabbed my gardening gloves and headed out. It was nearly time for the spectacular Messy Garage Tulip Show. Hey, don’t judge me. Sure there were seven hundred spring bulbs sprouting their lights out in that garage but I was sick people, sick. I filled up the wheelbarrow with tulips and daffodils, iris and a bunch of other stuff I’m to lazy to list and began the tedious task of digging those babies into the ground. This was made all the more tedious because, I WAS USING A SPOON. Not because I lost my hand trowel, my bulb planter or even my mind, well maybe that one. But because I have planted so much in my garden that a spoon was all I could squeeze into the tiny spaces left. It was a long day.

After taking shower, then foolishly talking to my neighbor outside in my bathrobe with wet hair it was time to call it a day. Besides, I could’ve sworn I heard the Discovery Channel click on.

Later that night resting comfortably next to the Saint, who was graciously not snoring for once, I was annoyed…awoken by a light tapping sound. “Oh, it must be raining” I thought and rolled over to snuggle into the covers. “Wait a minute. There weren’t any clouds and rain doesn’t come one drop at a time?” I nudge the Saint, “Honey, do you hear that, what is that?” He’s a sound sleeper but a fast wake up and I am the complete opposite. “That’s a leak somewhere.” Ahhgggg-- He was right and it was coming from the hot water heater which is for some reason dumber than buckets with holes so kids won’t drown (an actual US government proposal, I kid you not) the tank is located in our bedroom. I have no doubt in my mind that the designer who came up with this brilliant plan was a dedicated crack smoker and had just made a major score the day our blueprints came across his desk.

Now the beloved Saint clad only in his nighttime skivvies made his way to the heater in search of the leak. “I think it’s coming from AAAAAHHHHH!!!” This is where he made that sound an exotic animal being attacked by rabid hyenas covered in giant ants on the Discovery Channel makes. It seems there isn’t an actual word for that.
And thus began our latest near death experience.

I rushed to his side and was just in time to hear that horrible animal sound again--but this time it was coming from me. The intake hose on the water heater had come undone and we were now standing under Niagara Falls at the dead of winter in our underwear. The water pressure was nothing short of a hydrant. The intake hose had been cut too short and now that it had come loose it could not reach the connector valve. The water was shooting onto the low ceiling and drenching us. This water comes from a well four hundred feet down and it was dangerously cold at forty three degrees. The pressure was so strong that it took both of us to push the ends together enough to at least slow down the outward flow but as the ends came closer together the water was blasted into our faces and torsos. We were shivering so hard the next day all our muscles would be sore. We could barely speak, our motor skills were clunky and our thought process’ were getting pretty sketchy.

The two of us tried to hold the ends together and figure out a plan. This was made all the more difficult by the frequent and slips of the hose and the onslaught of torrential ice water. One of us had to run outside to turn off the well pump and one had to stay to hold the hoses together. He has stronger upper body strength so I raced outside to the well house and back in just in time for his grip to slip and we took another assault. There was still a lot of pressure.

I ran to turn all the faucets on. The hose slipped again. The house was filling with water. I ran outside again to find a garden hose. We could not force the water into the nozzle, the intake hose was uncontrollable. Violently shivering and barely able to think and speak we realized there was another pump still on at the opposite side of the house. The water was kept coming like an icy geyser with the brief exception of some super heated tank water being suctioned out to scald the Saint’s hand before soaking us with freezing water again. I ran back outside to turn off the other pump. It was thirty eight degrees out there with a light breeze.
Coming back in I felt guilty because thinking I had it better than he did, I got away from the torrential ice water for a moment. Finally the water was under control and we could get out of the water and dry ourselves off. It had taken us about twenty three minutes to get out from under the water.

Right about then is when our Malamute who had been frightened by those wild animal sounds and run outside, came back in. Apparently haven taken comfort by rolling in something very much dead. I laughed so hard at the completeness of the night’s disaster that I nearly fainted in a fit of coughing. Of course that had more to do with the fact that the malingering flu bug had taken total possession of my lungs by that point.
Now to leave you with a few interesting tidbits that I discovered after our little shower fiesta:

1. The temperature of the Atlantic waters that Titanic sank in were 35 degrees.
2. The air temperature was 43 degrees.
3. Time before exhaustion or unconsciousness, 15 - 30 minutes.

1. Temperature of the water we were in, 43 degrees.
2. Air temperature, 38 degrees
3. Time before exhaustion or unconsciousness, 30 – 60
4. Physical exertion drains the body of heat faster than if you stay still
5. Wind drains the body of heat.
6. Leonardo Di Caprio is a liar.

I'm lighting a fire and taking a nap.
*editing note- I checked the outside temp and it was 38* I edited the text to reflect that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Look Ma! No Color--OK, well, less anyway

Memory's Ghost Watercolor 22x30"
Forgive me readers for I have slacked. It has been six days since my last confession. Er, I mean post. Life snuck up on me and well one thing led to another and before I knew it I was waking up in a ditch with a pounding headache and a new tattoo that says Avis Rent-A-Car below a blue Honda Civic. I have no idea where the poodle skirt came from but the chicken seems to like it. In my last post, you remember that one from almost a week ago, whew, how time flies when you can't remember where you've been or how you got there or why it seemed like such a good idea at the time even though you were pretty sure it was illegal in most states...Oh, sorry.

Um, where was I? Oh, yes, my last blog post. As I recall I made some high faluting promises about showing you that I really could restrain my licentious ways with color. I had to dig around for awhile before I found something that fit the bill and believe me it wasn’t easy. I clearly have a problem here the proportions of which will likely require a twelve step program and someone named Thelma with big burly arms and a thick paddle to keep me in line. Sure, I tell myself I can quit anytime but I'm just lying to myself, I know I can’t. It’s time for me to see that, to admit that I am powerless over all those juicy rich bright colors so creamy in texture and vibrant like confections in a Willy Wonka factory. WHAT? No, I wasn’t painting anything just now. What makes you think that? Oh, that? Nothing. Nothing at all, just a little um, raspberry jelly that’s all. There all gone now.

The Barn watercolor 22x30"
Anyway so as I was saying, color. The bane of all that is civilized and bland. It arouses wayward thoughts of self expression and unruly feelings of joyful exuberance. It must be kept under lock and key if not eradicated entirely. There is nothing pleasurable or more decent and respectable than a simple palette of two colors. A third color may even, upon special occasions, be included but, no more. We certainly don't want things getting out of hand. An artistic life with a properly guarded imagination can be quite fulfilling, especially with the judicious use of a third color on those few but special occasions.

Ouch! It hurts make it stop. Nope, sorry, can’t do it. I’m hooked. I’m not painting unless every darn tube of paint I own is sprawled out on the table in a pigment fiesta. Trays of pastels arrayed before me rainbows in sunshine. Each tiny package of color a joyous promise of beauty. Shades of hope and beauty, touched by light and imagination.

Yes, I love color. I love the way my brain interacts with the celestial light of our world and the shadows that lurk within. With each shade and hue there is a conversation that goes on in a place where there are no words, only your own emotional language whispering in your soul. And if it is done well, that whisper can become a song; a song to lift your spirit into the heavens or render it in two. We share the same Eternal Love affair with color and light as autumn leaves on a sunny day. Artists from the dawn of time have been capturing this impossible beauty. They have used it to move the greatest and most immeasurable weight in existence, the human soul.
Fine Young Ladies pastel 24x26"
Shadows and light, nothingness and everything, exceedingly simple and endlessly complex. How could I resist using something so glorious in absolute excess? Perhaps it comes from knowing darkness, from seeing the color drained from life or the light extinguished from within. Maybe it is a talisman we carry to remind us that the light still lives somewhere, even when we can’t see it. There to remind us in the darkened hours that the sun will shine again and when it does, it will touch the deepest of shadows, turning them into rich vibrant colors, ripe with the promise of life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thee and Thou and then just me

Thee and Thou
pastel, 24x36"

It has occurred to me that I have not posted a painting in awhile. OK. It actually occurred to me that I haven't been on a cool road trip or seen anything not completely waterlogged for awhile. It made for a fine excuse to drag out a painting. I am so lazy. These two paintings are both in pastel medium on sanded paper and I painted them some time ago. Unfortunately now all I can see is what's wrong with them. Of course I always end up seeing what I think is wrong with them after I have them framed up. As a matter of fact the surest way for me to spot what I think isn't working is to have someone buy it. Then I spend the rest of my time trying to figure out how I can get that sucker back off their wall so I can fix it for them. Apparently the police frown on most of my ideas. If I'm lucky I'll catch it just after I finish framing it and attaching the hanging wire. It's funny what an expensive frame job can do for your critical perceptions.

As you can see I am something of a color whore. I seem to lack proper restraint in that area. I am not hopelessly lost however in color overload. I plan to prove it to you in the next post when I will show you a couple of paintings that display my ability to limit my licentious use of color. Today however seemed like a perfectly acceptable excuse to show you these. It has been dark and raining buckets for at least the past two days. There was a brief sun break this afternoon and I thought if I was fast enough I just might make it outside to soak up some of that elusive sunshine. Not fast enough. By the time I got my shoes on I saw the cats waving to me as they drifted by in a row boat. Maybe tomorrow.

For any of you who may be interested in the process I employ in my pastel paintings I'll bore you-- I mean provide you with a quick run down. The surface aka paper I use is Kitty Wallis museum grade sanded paper. It is like a very fine sand paper. I love this paper! You can pretty much do anything to it and it will hold up beautifully. This works well for me because I like to abuse the living daylights out of my pastel paintings. With watercolor I am much more civilised but, pastel is a full contact sport. I have been known to take a hose and scrub brush to this paper and it just laughs and keeps coming back for more.

Like many artists I paint an under-painting first. This is where I probably go off the reservation a tad bit. I use oil pastels directly on the paper. Some poor unsuspecting fool once said within earshot, that you could not mix oil pastels and dry pastels. I didn't make it out of the art store before I had a new mission in life--proving that unimaginative fool entirely wrong. I'm kind of punky that way. Of course no words were exchanged but it was definitely ON.

The way that this reasonable impossibility works has a lot to do with Kitty's fabulous paper. I use painting medium to thin and work the oil pastel into the tooth of the paper. I have to wear those little rubber finger tip things they use for counting money at the bank though or I would sand my fingertips right off. Sure, I could use a tool and sometimes I do but, I like the finger painting approach. It's in keeping with my juvenile nature.

The real reason I use this method and not the more traditional mediums for an under-painting is that the oil pastel quickly covers a lot of space and maintains its much more rich and vibrant color. This in turn means I can get where I am going in a painting a whole lot faster.

The other particular thing I prefer to use in these paintings is my own hand made pastels. I learned this little art form from the famous Kitty Wallis herself and I have been hooked ever since. I love being able to craft and create my own special colors and shades. It's a tactile thing and a little reminiscent of playing with Clay-Dough. Plus, I'm greedy with colors. There's that juvenile nature again. I find something absolutely irresistible about being able to purchase pure pigments and play around with colors and mixing them up as if you might know what you're actually doing. One day I hope to play around with composition as if I know what I'm doing. I have such lofty artistic goals. It's good to have goals. Goals and Play-Dough that's my motto. Well that and a shiny new box of Crayons. The big one!

Summer Afternoon

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Birds

Birds. I love them and I spend an inordinate amount of money feeding them. Sure I know they have a natural buffet built right into the landscape but I want their happy, chirpy, colorful, feathers flitting past my windows and through my gardens so, I feed them. A lot. They bring me joy and happiness. They remind me of the belief that my spirit was meant to soar high into the heavens. But freedom is not free. And this particular freedom requires bags of seeds, cracked corn, peanuts, suet cake and dog food. Yes, I did just say dog food. Dry dog food to be exact.

We have a rather wide variety of birds here and some of them have a distinct preference for dog food. I discovered this one fine summer day when upon researching a strange noise coming from the kitchen, I found Stellar Jays raiding the dog food dish. I shooed them out. They came right back. I closed that door. They tried to come in the front. Clearly they were fans. We feed our pets Hills
Science Diet and it’s great stuff but it isn’t cheap and it certainly isn’t for the birds.

Every day I put out fresh food for them in about eight different places. I do this as part of my morning ritual, right along with having my extra hot latte’ and feeding the horses their morning treats. My little feathered friends literally wait for me in the trees. If I am late getting up, the jays will start squawking and tapping on the window. I don’t mind though. It gets me walking the garden every morning which is something I truly enjoy doing. I don’t have a bunch of specialized feeders designed for individual birds with price tags to match. Mainly what I do is sprinkle out a mixture of feed onto stumps, rocks and logs. They have been pretty comfortable with this arrangement and we get dozens of different species that seem to get along just fine. Trust me, no one is going hungry around here. The mixture that I have found to be the most well received is this: squirrel mix (corn, sunflower, peanut, etc.), no waste seed mix and cheap dry dog food plus several suet cages. And this is how we come to buy dog-dog food and bird-dog food.

So as you can see I love the birds. Maybe just not enough for Science Diet though. It is therefore also part of my yearly ritual to go viewing birds that don’t visit Bluegate Gardens. And that is where you find this post now. The cute little red farm house is in the Skagit valley. You remember when I told you about the valley’s great culinary abundance earlier this year in Trip to Bountiful? Well there is another special delight that the Skagit valley has to offer. Birds!
Every winter the Snow Geese descend upon the valley on their way up to Alaska and Canada. Bald Eagles can also be found in abundance but we come for the Snow Geese in particular. And the reason is this; you can truly experience an Alfred Hitchcock moment like no other. Now I can’t speak for anyone else but I did not grow up around this sort of flocking phenomenon and it can be quite spectacular. Seeing these huge flocks is one thing amazing in itself but the real excitement starts when they suddenly take flight flushing into the air with a great rushing explosion of white feathers. You feel them swirling around you lifting and rising into the sky and for a moment you can feel your soul rising with them high into the heavens. There is no Disneyland roller coaster ride that can compare with that feeling of living energy lifting you up out of your earthly confines.

Now of course there is the other side of this wonderful phenomenon which the great master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock displayed so disturbingly well. Unnerving enough to make every common House Finch look suspiciously like an evil minion from hell sent on a scouting mission, and a giant flock of huge Snow Geese surrounding your house is an active sign of the Apocalypse. If you can manage to get past that collective trauma memory it’s really a great bit of fun.
The other great bird watching event that we always make sure to experience is the Bald Eagles that flock to our northern rivers every winter to eat the dying salmon. The birds are on their way up to Canada and Alaska. Just like the Snow Geese the eagles are stopping off in Washington state to fatten up on the rich buffet before heading off for some long winter months up North. When I was a girl I remember learning of our nation’s dying Bald Eagle population and it saddened me deeply. Species do die off all the time but as I understood it these birds weren’t going naturally, we were killing them off ourselves. I also grew up in areas where I never saw Bald Eagles so they seemed even more rare than imaginable. They held a mystical quality for me, perhaps not too far removed from that of a unicorn. The idea of losing that forever was heartbreaking.

Humans do a lot of terrible things and we make a lot of mistakes along the way. We also do a lot of tremendously wonderful things and get an awful lot of stuff right. Bringing the Bald Eagles back from the brink was one of those things we got right. It renews my faith in the symbiotic relationship of living things when I see the trees full of Bald Eagles.
We drive out to Concrete and Marblemount to watch them flock along the river banks. They fill the trees in numbers I could never have imagined in my childhood. I can stand on the side of the road not five feet from a beautiful majestic creature that in my lifetime was almost lost to eternity. Seeing these birds free and wild in such numbers is a clear and true testament to life. An active display of life snatched back from the edge of total darkness. Some things go when they are meant to go and life ends and is reborn all the time. Sometimes however we get the chance to right a wrong. Sometimes we get to say no to death, not just yet.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fireworks and Flu in 2010

Yes, I do know that I am posting this on January 2nd, in the evening no less and most of you will see it even later than this, on the 3rd. Apparently I decided to start the new year in a bang up way--with the flu. It's not the worst thing and if it is the swine flu I think it is more the piglet version rather than the full hog version. Piglet or hog, I have had a fever for days now and the synapses in my brain are popping like fireworks under water. And that would explain how it is that I come by these pictures here.

Every year Seattle blows up the Space Needle. I don't know when we started doing this but I think it might have begun when we blasted the hideous King Dome. It just felt so darn good blowing up the ugliest building ever built that we wanted to relive that glorious day blowing some more stuff up. I'm not a native here so I might be missing some important details but I have a fever and I'm not so sure I care that much right now. I bullied the Saint into taking me to West Seattle that night like we always do so that I could take these fuzzy shots. It had been raining most of the day but magically cleared up just long enough for the show. We got a super lucky parking spot so I didn't have to hike anywhere. Yea! I don't have a tripod--don't ask why, I have no idea--so I propped the camera up on a crumpled box atop the car and tried to keep it steady. There was still a lot of fog and moisture in the air so the shots are more soft than even my unsteady shooting would have been alone. I just wanted to share with you all something that is a part of our Northwest tradition here. It holds a special place in my heart. Special enough to drag my fevered foolish self outside on a chilly wet night to take wobbly pictures of "Ooh, pretty!"

I hope you all had a wonderful time New Year's Eve. I am so glad to have met you all and to be part of your blogging world. Thank you so much for making this a special year and for enriching me with your wonderful friendship. I look forward to sharing 2010 with all of you. I wish you all the best this year and may your hearts and families be filled with love and joy each and every day.